Empath Health, Stratum Health System announce merger

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ABOVE: Stratum Health System President and CEO Jonathan Fleece and Empath Health President and CEO Rafael Sciullo. Photo courtesy National Strategies PR.

TAMPA BAY | Empath Health and Stratum Health System announced Feb. 26 that the organizations have entered into formal discussions to merge and become one of the largest nonprofit, hospice-based care networks in the nation.

Empath Health’s nonprofit, integrated network of care supports patients facing chronic or advanced illnesses throughout Tampa Bay. It began in 1977 as Suncoast Hospice and its members include Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), which formed in 2016 after the merger of the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP) and Francis House.

Stratum Health System, founded in 2015, is a not-for-profit integrated health care network focusing on managing the continuum of care through hospice and home-based services in Southwest Florida. Its most recognized brand is Tidewell Hospice, established in 1980, which services patients in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

“This action brings together two integrated networks of care that share a commitment to the preservation of their charitable missions of not-for-profit hospice, home care and community-based services,” the organizations shared in a press release. “The new organization will care for more than 6,000 people a day.”

“This is an exciting and historic day as we move forward, together, to provide trusted, integrated care solutions for those lives for whom we are blessed to care, including the tremendous support we provide to our patients’ families and our communities,” Empath Health President and CEO Rafael Sciullo shared.

“Empath and Stratum both independently operate in good business and financial health, but must plan for the future,” Stratum President and CEO Jonathan Fleece added. “The combined organization will have the scale, breadth and capabilities to compete more effectively as the healthcare marketplace continues to evolve through increased competition. Our services, people and geographic synergies fit well together creating a stronger, more formidable organization for the years to come.”

In an announcement video, Sciullo and Fleece noted that Empath and Stratum have entered a planning phase to develop a comprehensive plan to merge. Sciullo will serve as CEO and Fleece will serve as the president of the new organization, which as of yet has not been named, with a full integration expected in January 2023. At that time, Sciullo will retire and Fleece will become both president and CEO.

“Rest assured, we are starting in a good place,” Fleece explained. “Both organizations are in strong financial and operational health, and this gives us time to make good, careful, deliberate and thoughtful decisions as we move forward.”

The organization also shared that a Mission Services Organization (MSO) is anticipated to launch this year, the first team of professionals hired under the new organization. The MSO “will provide shared services across the organization in the most efficient manner and provide a foundation to build integrated care services,” including innovation, technology, finance and more.

Empath and Stratum also noted that the merger has no direct impact on patients, their families, volunteers, donors, referral sources or the Board of Directors for either organization at this time. Additionally, all affiliated organizations will continue to operate under their current names as of now.

“EPIC will not be impacted,” the organizations also confirmed to Watermark. “However, there is potentially some opportunity for us to expand our EPIC services into the four-county area where Stratum currently provides services. Stratum does not have an HIV services program.”

The organizations concluded by advising that they will provide “trusted, integrated care solutions for the lives for which they are blessed to care.” Their efforts will include “the tremendous support they provide to patients’ families and the communities they serve [and] continue to exemplify what it means to be not-for-profit compassionate care givers demonstrating open minds, brave spirits, pioneering hearts, grateful voices and a healing presence for the work they so passionately love.”

You can watch Empath Health and Stratum Health System’s merger announcement below. For more information about each organization, visit EmpathHealth.org and StratumHealthSystem.org.

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